In mainland China, gambling is illegal except for the state run lotteries, the Welfare Lottery and the Sports Lottery. Interestingly however, there was a burst of online betting around the World Cup supported by Internet giants Alibaba and Tencent. Neither Alibaba nor Tencent have gambling licenses, so how did such high profile companies get away with it? By partnering with the state run lotteries for the World Cup. Both have shrewdly realized the potential of these lotteries on the digital front, and acting as hosting platforms, they’ve profited by taking a cut of the money gambled. Not ignoring the growing mobile market, both brands have even established mobile applications that make placing bets online easy – so easy that it is estimated over 10 billion yuan will be bet legally.
The ease of online gambling through apps like Tencent’s WeChat is a major reason why legal gambling at the World Cup has increased, from only 2.3 billion yuan bet in the 2010 World Cup. People who normally wouldn’t line up at lottery centers can place bets conveniently online. Additionally, bets can be just a few yuan, making it easy for anyone to be able to gamble. Smartphone applications have such simple interfaces for placing bets on teams that it’s also easier to gamble without knowing much about football or gambling, since the potential to earn money is just a few clicks away.
Of course, unkosher gambling is prevalent as well. Aside from street side betting of all sorts, Chinese netizens have found ways to gamble on foreign sites (since Chinese online gambling sites are also banned). Plenty of gambling sites accept Chinese gamblers, and some even accept Chinese forms of payment. None of these methods are actually allowed, but people have always found ways to get around the authorities. Now that Alibaba and Tencent have found a way to make online gambling accessible by working with the state lottery system, perhaps legal gambling will become prevalent for other events after the World Cup ends. However, with the government’s recent clamp down on corruption, there might be a limit to gambling, illegal and legal. China’s infamous social media personality, Guo Meimei was recently arrested for illegal betting during the World Cup, showing consequences even for those with ties to China’s rich and famous. In many aspects, China’s Internet giants are driving China’s future, testing the boundaries of technology and government control. While the future of online betting looks tentatively promising, like many things in China, is still a gamble.